Grin and tonic

Posted by Simon Curtis

Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder, and there was something for every artistic bent during the 1-0 win at the Etihad on Tuesday.

Like a ripe apple, this was a match that could be divided into three distinct parts: 20 minutes of slumber, followed by 25 of electric attacking, followed by 45 of stumbling around. Much has been said of City's advantage over United in terms of squad depth and Tuesday that was at least half proved by the sight of a practically all-new 11 out on the pristine Etihad turf, compared to the Sleepwalk in the Valleys last weekend.

There was an entirely new back four, featuring the welcome sight of the arm-banded Micah Richards and the less promising sight of Aleksander Kolarov strolling around at left back. As expected, the reserve central pairing of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott also got the nod, a clear confirmation that young Matija Nastasic will take his deserved place in the Cup final, after a debut season in the Premier League which has been rich in promise and high in quality.

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Of those patrolling further forward, only Carlos Tevez seems sure to play at the weekend, with Roberto Mancini having a tricky choice to make between the skills of Nasri and the drive of James Milner. Many would choose the latter; a certain well-known Italian might just do the opposite. It's a matter of taste, evidently.

Amid all the speculation surrounding the dreamy figure of Edin Dzeko, whether he was psychologically fit to play, whether he deserved to roll on the sky blue shirt after the distressingly vapid performance at the weekend, there he was, doing what Dzeko does best: First he dangled a great limb at a 33rd-minute cross from the left. The ball shot through him as if he were made of butterfly netting. It seems at times only Dzeko can marry the appearance of a proud forest stag with the durability of rice paper. But at least he kept at it.

Tevez, the best player on the pitch by a county mile, advanced down the right and chipped a cunning cross back behind the first line of retreating defenders. As it dropped in a comely arc onto Dzeko's outstretched right boot, you feared for the row of pigeons aiming their backsides high on the gantry over the measly away support, but the Bosnian's connection took the ball straight this time and it beat Boaz Myhill on his left side. Dzeko's finger-to-lip celebration could be interpreted in a number of interesting ways, but let us just say that he wasn't in the mood to jump into the crowd, as he had done in the game at the Hawthorns in October.

City's control of the game at this point intensified quite clearly. Goal-scoring chances came and went. By halftime, there could have been three or four more to add to Dzeko's strike.

In truth, the match was far from an oil painting, but at least we had Gabriel Tamas doing a fine impersonation of Vincent Van Gogh, after high studs from Kolarov had caught the Romanian just behind the ear. Constantin Brancusi, Elena Popea and other artistic children of Brasov, Tamas' hometown, would have been proud of the heavily bandaged defender, as he spent the rest of the match trying to orientate himself into some sort of artistic symmetry with the rest of his teammates.

West Brom, expected to come out and attack, did not appear to have the guile or the willpower to manage this simple activity, but, come the second half, with City slipping back into the comfy contours of midfield confusion, the visitors began to have a go. With Lescott and Kolarov revealing exactly why Mancini will revert to Nastasic and Gael Clichy for the Cup final, sleepy misplaced passes prevailed as time and again blue shirts were caught in possession.

We were left with a pudding of a match and to savour what few artistic moments we could catch in their unadulterated form. First Javi Garcia, a man with a complete suitcase of snide tackles and nifty elbows, performed a full 360 degrees pirouette to escape his markers, then pantomime villain Peter Odemwingie arrived to carry out three of the most audaciously selfish goal attempts ever seen from one player during a 10-minute cameo. We were left to admire Claudio Yacob and Nasri performing "Rutting Stags at Night" and one last showing of Kolarov's unfeasibly beautiful "Sleeping Man Walking" before Mr. Dowd's shrill whistle ended the artistic cavalcade.

Three points and a clean bill of health. Targets achieved. Add to that the bonus of a fit-again Jack Rodwell charging through midfield and the sight of the three Wembley contenders -- Tevez, Nasri and Milner -- looking the pick of the bunch and Mr. Mancini will sleep easy tonight. May his dreams be beautiful ones.

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